Storytelling: The Power of Oral Narratives

By Panckridge, Jo | Practical Literacy, October 2020 | Go to article overview

Storytelling: The Power of Oral Narratives


Panckridge, Jo, Practical Literacy


'Inside each of us is a natural-born storyteller, waiting to be released.'

Robin Moore

The time-honoured art of storytelling came to life in our Junior School Library this past year. As a medium for expressing thinking orally, storytelling was explored by Year 2 and 3 children with enthusiasm and enjoyment. This encouraged developing visual imagination and stretching and enriching personal vocabularies.

The school library became a space for stories to be shared. Traditional European, Indigenous, Polynesian, Asian and Arabian tales were told, alongside those stories shared by the children themselves. Students retold favourite tales, imagined and invented narratives and real-life stories of personal experiences.

With an emphasis on audience participation and the co-creating of stories, the children delighted in this oral language experience, its drama and sense of theatre. From a language development lens, what became obvious was the significant increase in rich narrative vocabulary, a deeper understanding of narrative structure, the language cues denoting movement through the various stages of a story, and an exploration of authorial techniques to create suspense, mood and action.

By modelling storytelling, from expansive introductions with descriptions of places in time and colourful characters, to the building of action and the satisfaction of a rounded ending, children's own tales became richer and more entertaining.

Descriptions were full; sentences were long, allowing the audience to frame visual images of people and places. Action was often delivered with short, sharp sentences, conveying drama, energy and pace. The clever use of repetition contributed to the dramatic effect.

As our storytelling developed, it became evident that this oral playing with narratives was also having a positive impact on writing. For some children, the act of writing became easier. They realised they had something to tell, and something they had rehearsed and refined orally was so much easier for young children to present. Their developing toolkit of authorial devices, adapted from all the tales told to them, served to scaffold their written stories as well.

Our Storytellers' Festival became a response to the children's wish to 'keep on telling stories'. It provided them with a platform to showcase their skills as storytellers through performance. The children decorated the space with colourful bunting and countless props, including our storytelling chair, costumes (see Figure 1). This was a wonderful celebration of the love of storytelling. Children across Junior School lined up to tell stories with big and attentive audiences, whilst others enjoyed illustrating these stories on large easels set beside the storytelling chair, sharing their own visual imaginings of others' tales.

In reflecting upon the benefits of storytelling and comparing this experience with their more frequent exposure to story reading, the children's comments were insightful:

* 'You didn't have to see what the pictures were. You can just imagine the story and that makes it (the story) so much better. You had to use your imagination.'

* 'I liked listening to the stories you told better. You can do silly words and make it sound funny with different accents.'

* 'Storytelling is better because you need to listen really hard and are closer to the story. It's really exciting.'

* 'Storytelling is cool. …

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